Gambling is, say Sheffield couple Liz and Charles Ritchie, an ‘invisible killer’ – a crippling addiction that claims victims like their son, Jack, who took his own life aged 24, driven to despair by an uncontrollable betting habit.
So, when people gather at Yellow Arch Studios in Neepsend on February 10 for a fundraiser under the banner You Don’t Know Jack, the mission will be to increase awareness of gambling’s dangers, as well as remembering a popular young man who struggled with the insidious nature of modern betting.
Liz and Charles have set up You Don't Know Jack as a charity, as well as establishing the organisation Gambling With Lives with other families who have lost sons to the same addiction.
The latter was launched late last year – the day before the Government agreed to bring forward the introduction of a £2 maximum stake on controversial fixed-odds betting terminals from October 2019 to this April, after an earlier postponement attracted heavy criticism and prompted sports minister Tracey Crouch’s resignation.
“Gambling is being normalised and it’s got to stop,” Paul Blomfield, Labour MP for Sheffield Central, said when Gambling With Lives was set in motion at Parliament. Jack, he said, was one of his constituents, and while the Government’s rethink was welcome, more should be done.
“Unless this is the first step in a package of wider reform, more young men will die,” he argued. “From rethinking advertising laws to considering gambling as a public health issue, we need to get serious about stopping the damage caused by gambling, in the same way we did with smoking a generation ago.”
Jack, a former pupil at Abbeydale Grange School, took his own life in November 2017. After graduating with a 2:1 degree in history, he had volunteered in Kenya and then went to teach English in Vietnam, where the tragedy happened.
Liz was a consultant psychotherapist with the NHS, while Charles retired in 2016 from his job as head of higher education research for the Department for Business, Innovation and Skills.
Their son started gambling when he was 17. With friends, he made a fake adult ID to play on fixed-odds machines, sometimes gambling with his dinner money.
Eventually he was found to be losing £1,000 a month. His parents stepped in, and thought his problems were solved, but in Vietnam Jack fell prey to the online gaming industry, which uses sophisticated techniques to keep users playing.
One night – at just after 7pm local time – he sent his parents a heartbreaking email that said: “'I'm past the point of controlling myself and I'm not coming back from this one.”
Liz and Charles alerted Jack's friends in Hanoi. One arrived at the scene by 7.45pm – sadly, too late to save him.
"Jack was a normal, bright, happy and popular young man with a great future ahead of him," said Charles at an event earlier this month. “His only problem was his addiction to gambling."
On February 10, Yellow Arch will host music from 3pm to 11pm. Folk, swing, punk, funk and soul is promised; Conor Murphy, Bethan Robinson, James Ewan Tait, The Dusty Bees, The Synthetics, Protex Blue and Papa Soul are all on the bill. The night finishes with a DJ set from Zeeni.
Street food from Fancy An Indian will be served and charity T-shirts will be on sale. Tickets cost £4 in advance. Admission is also payable on the door for a minimum suggested donation of £5. Visit gamblingwithlives.org or justgiving.com/crowdfunding/you-dont-know-jack for details.